Chains like Subway and Panera are selling groceries, including loaves of bread, milk, and even toilet paper, as grocery stores struggle with shortages and long wait times

Subway is selling sandwich ingredients through its new grocery service at more than 250 stores.

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Subway is selling sandwich ingredients through its new grocery service at more than 250 stores.
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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Grocery stores are struggling to keep up with demand, with many customers unable to place online orders as they attempt to avoid crowded stores during the coronavirus pandemic.

In response, some restaurant chains – facing a massive decline in customers – are rolling out their own grocery services to sell off ingredients. Chains, including Panera, Subway, Potbelly, and Fuddruckers, are among those now selling grocery items at some locations.

Subway recently rolled out grocery services at more than 250 of its locations, including stores in California, Connecticut, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington. The sandwich chain is selling the ingredients customers would usually choose to top a sandwich – sliced meat, vegetables, cheese – as well as the bread itself.

In advertising, Subway references customers’ struggles to order online from grocery stores.

subway grocery

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Facebook/Subway Grocery

“Need groceries? Forget those other Insta-Fresh options with time slots DAYS away,” reads one Subway Grocery Facebook post. “To support our communities and employees, Subway’s got a new grocery menu ready for contact-free curbside pickup or delivery in just hours.”

Fellow sandwich chain Potbelly recently launched a “pantry” section, similarly selling its sandwich ingredients. Options include six stacks of turkey breast, ham, roast beef, and salami, so shoppers can create their own “Wreck” sandwich at home.

On Wednesday, Panera announced it is launching its own grocery service, selling items like loaves of bread, bagels, fresh fruits and vegetables, and milk.

“From limited choices on grocery shelves to the growing need to limit the number of trips outside of the home, it is an incredibly stressful time when it comes to putting wholesome food on the table, and we knew Panera could help,” Panera CEO Niren Chaudhary said in a statement.

While burger chain Fuddruckers has not launched a national grocery service, some franchisees are testing out new solutions. Two Florida locations are selling grocery items, including toilet paper, bleach, and gloves.

fuddruckers grocery

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Kate Taylor/Business Insider

“Our philosophy has always been to offer solutions to the community, and we know that we will soon come out of this difficult situation together,” Fuddruckers said in an email sent to customers on Tuesday. “In our Apopka and East Colonial restaurants, we are selling special grocery products for your home.”

While grocery stores have been facing shortages, restaurant sales have plummeted in recent weeks.

Restaurant foot traffic fell 42% in the week ended March 29, according to data released by the NPD Group earlier this week. Last week, UBS analyst Dennis Geiger predicted that up to 20% of the restaurants in the US could permanently close.